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Our economy is off-track and needs a new vision that will fix our problems and reconnect us with our most basic life commitments. That’s the paraphrased viewpoint of Dr. Bob Goudzwaard, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and professor of economics and social philosophy at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Goudzwaard was recently in Ontario and spoke at a few locations about his analysis of troubling signs in the economies of the Western world. With long involvement in international development, Goudzwaard most recently chaired a two-year consultation between the World Council of Churches, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And he travels in interesting company --- his most recent book has an introduction by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

According to Goudzwaard, the Western world has a fundamental belief in the creation of dynamic patterns in society that can transcend limitations. In other words, progress. And he says we rarely doubt the fundamental idea of progress but rather become concerned about a slowing of its rate and its resulting impact on our lives. We believe, he says, that nature must adapt to our wishes and desires.

Goudwaard believes that we are at a watershed. He says that we are experiencing difficulties and challenges in energy, food availability, poverty, security and in the environment. These things are all mutually reinforcing and magnifying problems. And he says the solution of more of the same --- more security, more technology, more money --- won’t solve the problems we face. We need a shift, he says, in our most basic attitudes towards our everyday pursuits.

Goudzwaard, in my paraphrase of his ideas, states the importance of having our economies grounded in our most basic life commitments. But he’s not saying that those basic life commitments are open to debate; they are based on the fact that we are limited creatures with obligatory connections to people, the Creation and spiritual life. According to Goudzwaard, much like the parable of the prodigal son in the Scriptures, our economy needs to “come to its senses” and revisit ways that generate true prosperity.

Farmers, more than many sectors of society, can probably sympathize and agree with Goudzwaard’s perspective. After all, they are usually keenly aware of the biological, technological, financial, social, and environmental limits on their activities. And I would venture that more than a few have a strong sense of the Creator’s call for a stewardship of the gifts they have received. Perhaps it’s time to heed Goudzwaard’s cautionary advice and consider whether our economy is indeed acting like the prodigal son and needs to return home.


John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html. CFFO is supported by 4,353 family farmers across Ontario.

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